Whispering Pines – Something To Shout About
By E. Nolan
50 miles isn’t very far. Traveled at the right time of day or week it would take you less than an hour to drive that. That’s the drive from Minneapolis to one of the Twin Cities highest rated golf courses on GolfAdvisor.com… one of the Twin Cities highest rated golf courses on Google – Whispering Pines. It wasn’t always that way – that prestigious and in demand. It wasn’t that way 10 years ago when I first visited, which is why I was so insistent that my editor include them in this issue. This Whispering Pines is nowhere near the course of a decade ago. Ever since Mark Dvorak saved the course six years ago he’s redeemed it – reinvigorated it – into the course you could tell it was always supposed to be. THAT is why people love it so much now. THAT is why it might be a course you’ve never heard of, but REALLY should find a way to go play. 50 miles isn’t very far… not for the opportunity to experience Whispering Pines in Annandale.
I asked Mark recently what it was (specifically) about the Joel Goldstrand designed Whispering Pines that made him so eager to invest all of himself six years ago. Why THAT course? “It’s the character,” he replied. “The fact that literally no two holes are alike… something not very many courses can honestly say. I felt this was a place that was meant to be prestigious – a place that could easily be highly regarded. I could see that course buried under what it was then, and am thrilled that everyone else can see that same thing now.”
It took a lot of work (obviously) to make the 30 year old course (1986) feel brand new, but those are the kinds of visions and commitments that save some of our favorite courses. The NW extension of the metro often gets forgotten in the annual golf rush of our abbreviated season and that’s exactly why it’s my favorite area to cover each summer (lack of crowds, bounty of rich golf experiences). There are five courses up here from St. Michael to Sauk Centre that I loop around and around, and I’ve spent years encouraging other avid local players to get up here and do the same.
Whispering Pines is more than just a golf course though – far more than it ever was before. Three years ago, Mark invested $250,000 into opening a full-service restaurant/bar called the Sand Trap – providing it with a new kind of sustainability. Now it is a place people WANT to hang out before and after rounds. It is a place that can cater to events (which it couldn’t before) and those investments (as well as the brand new installation of GPS on all the carts) has tripled the annual rounds in recent years and quintupled the amount of hosted tournaments. “Once golf groups give us a shot,” Mark nods, “they keep coming back. We make sure of that.”
To facilitate visits, Mark has partnered with GolfNow, meaning there are always incredible deals to be had on the Whispering Pines website itself – no need to look anywhere else. “We’ll take care of you,” Mark says, “wherever you’re coming from.”
Mark has recently turned his attention to his website, with the intention of adding high-resolution photography and hopefully even a great drone tour – which is EXACTLY what a course like this needs to show its true beauty and character. “We’re at the point now (six years in) where we’ve put in all the work and are ready to let everyone see how far we’ve come.” Far too often courses ignore the value of great website photography and course tours. Mark gets it. “It’s coming,” he smiles. “Ready or not.” (Oh, we’re ready. Bring it on!)
There are several fun signature holes at Whispering Pines. I can appreciate the short, Par 3, 16th (the popular pick for “course signature”), but I love tough, thought-provoking golf holes, which makes the Par 4, 3rd a fave as well as the tricky Par 5, 13th. The course only “tips out” at 6,421 yards as a Par 71, but you’ll find that yardage to be sufficient. With few water hazards, the course is mostly there in front of you – there among all the trees – with a premium placed on accurate approaches to some pretty crafty greens. This is a shotmakers course, a place for those who appreciate (and understand) that every stroke (from the first tee shot to the last putt) counts exactly the same. With a driving range and practice area, this is a great place to spend a day – an easy trip to a course that is always well worth the trip.